Poverty alleviation is complex, so principles are more helpful than blueprints for designing an effective poverty alleviation ministry. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to material poverty, and context matters, too. Ministry tools and strategies that work well to facilitate lasting transformation in a rural village in Togo might not work in an urban area in the U.S., and vice versa. Effective, sustainable ministry reflects God’s story of change and the way He has made us as human beings.
Ministry focused on addressing poverty is fundamentally about promoting change. It’s about helping people and communities move to a better situation than their present one.
When local churches try to engage in ministry that allows their members to be more present in the community around them—outreach, evangelism, or mercy and benevolence work—they often recognize that connecting with others is much more complex than they expect. Leaders and volunteers can end up feeling disconnected from the more natural pathways to connection and relationship-building that seem to work in other areas of their lives.
As someone previously incarcerated, Chanda knows first-hand how broken relationships are at the core of poverty. It’s why she continues to show up for incarcerated women with biblical truths and practical resources — like Faith & Finances Inside.
Local churches that have been engaged with a biblical framework for addressing poverty or have used various tools and trainings from the Chalmers Center know that one of the biggest keys in a healthy ministry is taking an asset-based, rather than a needs-based approach. An asset-based approach helps us see that all people, both those who are materially poor and those with material wealth, can contribute to poverty alleviation efforts.
As the Chalmers Center staff gathers with our churches and families to celebrate Easter this week, we join with Christians around the world, declaring “He is risen!”
The Ministry of Jesus has always been word and deed. Wherever Jesus went, he preached the Kingdom of God. As he went, he healed people who were sick and hurting and in trouble as a sign that His message was true and the kingdom was at hand.
When it comes to poverty alleviation ministry, it’s not uncommon for new volunteers to feel excited about getting involved. They can’t wait to make a difference. But if these volunteers aren’t well-prepared for the work they’re joining, over time, they will likely begin to feel overwhelmed and discouraged. They realize that there are more needs than resources and there is always something else they could do to help. Walking through deep valleys with people wrestling with material poverty, the road is often rough and the way forward isn’t always clear. These sorts of challenges are part of the reason that The Chalmers Center regularly talks about the importance of training volunteers.
Restoring people to sustaining work is a key component of poverty alleviation. One of the most effective ways to work toward this is by starting a holistic work readiness ministry.
In 2022, we kept hearing about the “great resignation” and “quiet quitting.” In 2023, layoffs and inflation are the headlines. No matter the year or the economic cycle, there is great need for work that helps restore people to wholeness. But work isn’t just something we have to deal with in a fallen world. It’s part of God’s good design for our dignity as His image-bearers. This goes all the way back to Genesis 1-2, where God created man and woman and placed them in the garden and told them to to subdue the earth—to exercise their creative potential in His good creation through their work.
Nearly a decade ago, before Life.Church grew into the largest multi-site congregation in the country, the church paused all missions. The church was growing, but their strategy to create local and global impact wasn’t working.
Jeff Galley, Life.Church’s Leader of Life.Missions, knew there had to be a more effective framework for missions, but he wasn’t sure where to start. “There has to be a better approach to serve our communities…we really needed to think differently,” Jeff shared.
In 2009, Seed Effect set out with a commitment to bringing Christ-centered economic empowerment to South Sudan. Seven years into ministry, civil war returned to the already fragile country—forcing Seed Effect to rethink their approach as they relocated to Northern Uganda.
With Chalmers’ influence, Seed Effect made a quick pivot—they added a savings-led model—that allowed their members to flourish.
Restore OKC is a community development organization in Oklahoma City. They’re “focused on the restoration of health, environment, reconciliation, and equity with neighbors in Northeast Oklahoma City.” For the past 6 years, Restore OKC has been committed to building relationships with the people in their community and working alongside them to bring about transformation.
Based in central Oklahoma, Branch15 was founded in 2013 to serve women in critical, life-controlling situations. Their mission has always been one of healing and restoration in the lives of their clients. Branch15’s main ministry participants have little to no support systems to address crises, which range from substance addiction to sex trafficking to abusive relationships to incarceration.
Last summer, a team from Chalmers’ long standing partner, HOPE International, visited some of the Ukrainian church partners that they had supported in the early months of the war. While encouraged by incredible stories of life-saving relief work, they also detected challenges that often accompany sustained periods of relief: overextended church leaders, dependency from recipients, and frustration from volunteers.
God’s work in the world unfolds to us in the big story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation, and in the individual stories told in Scripture. From the Garden to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David to the promise of the Messiah to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the church to the New Creation, we are so often given God’s truths in narrative, not only in didactic lessons or abstract categories.
If we’re going to pursue relational poverty alleviation ministry that aims toward long-term development, one of the main outcomes we’re looking for from ministry participants is learning. We want to see the people we’re walking with learn new skills, rediscover their dignity, and grow in their capacity to navigate the complexities of life.
God made the world out of love, and redeems us through His love expressed in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. He made us to enjoy loving relationships with Him, with ourselves, with others, and with the rest of His creation. Because of this, our work to walk with people in material poverty needs to be relational and participatory in nature, working together with people out of love, not merely doing things for them. True relationships are a two-way street. We give and receive.